October 31, 2011
Benzos, Facebook, Twitter, television, Internet, food, chocolate, fast food, smart-phones, Skype, oh yeah Google plus I forgot about that, On Demand, TiVo, Netflix, movies, 3-D movies, iPads, kindles, iPhones, Blackberry. Let’s face it; we’re a generation with no tolerance for longing.
I recently read Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot; this novel takes place in the eighties. It’s gorgeous. I read the whole thing aloud. It deserved it. The words warranted a voice. Something popped open in me when I read this novel. It was paced so slowly. So patiently. I walked back and forth in my living room and read each word and if I didn’t pronounce it correctly I repeated it. I read it showing my teeth. I learned somewhere that if you show your teeth your pronunciation will be smoother, clearer. When I was a little girl I did my homework like that. I lined up all my dolls and stuffed animals and I played school. I was the teacher and I would read my homework and “teach” my homework to my stuffed animal students. This is how I learned. I suggest you do the same. Take your time. Read it aloud. This novel deserves it.
This novel somehow got me to slow the fuck down. Which brings me to a point here. What would a present day marriage plot novel look like? It seems to me there is one essential ingredient to the marriage plot. Longing. Longing creates the tension to get you to turn the page and without giving too much away there is some serious pining going on in this novel.
“How does it feel to want?” When I was a little girl, my best friend an oddly sexy bossy girl, her plain face glowing, her pale skin, her stunning green eyes stood there taunting, “How does it feel to want?” I don’t know where she got it from probably TV or a movie but they were the most piercing, gut-wrenching words I had ever heard. Want want want. That’s all I did. I wanted my mom to be normal. I wanted our apartment to be normal. Then, in foster care, I wanted to be loved the same way I perceived my foster siblings were being loved. Together we were all secrets, me and this sexy bossy little friend of mine, and so began my intolerance for longing.
Let’s take a look at some other marriage plots. There are those from the Victorian era, like Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
I have to admit I developed a little bit of what I called my own little Mr. Darcy syndrome after reading that novel. In Pride in Prejudice it’s girl likes boy and boy likes girl. In this case boy is Mr. Darcy and girl is Elizabeth Bennett. Boy is bad bad bad to the bone, a liar and without money and not able to marry into a different class to support girl. An added twist, it’s rumored boy is scheduled to marry someone else. But in the end it turns out it was all a rumor and in fact bad boy is good boy and they can be together after all. That is what I call Mr. Darcy syndrome when I wish that whomever I’m dating is secretly much better than they actually are, pensive and thoughtful rather than a stoner. This marriage plot took a long time to unravel as it took place in Victorian times and their only mode of communication was via letters and rumors. They had to be extremely coy and weren’t even allowed to speak to one another directly if they were in the same room or Ms. Bennett could be perceived as a whore. So there was a long distance in that courting.
Then if we flash way forward to the fifties through the seventies there’s the more suburban marriage plot like Revolutionary Road and Couples. These novels feature the marriage as jailer.
The couples move from the big city to the suburbs their husbands drive to work. The women get depressed. They have swinger parties and begin to pine for their friend’s partners. Here the longing could go on for a while because of all the deceit and secrets. I mean, they definitely picked up the pace a little, and remember it’s the fifties-to-late-sixties-early-seventies so their only means of communication was phoning on rotary phones with busy signals.
Now for The Marriage Plot. This novel takes place in the eighties. The story is boy likes girl but girl likes another boy, a bad boy, but boy, main character boy, is given little gleams of hope, a drunken kiss, so when boy goes abroad he has that to hold on to. Their courtship occurs in a couple of mystique-riddled conversations and then a letter that was sent from the US to Europe. The only way the protagonist could retrieve the letter is by going to the American Express office when he goes to exchange his money. His love doesn’t know if he received it, or his reaction. There is tons of wanting longing pining here.
Which is why I realized how today if we wanted to pine for someone we could just use one of our gadjillion gadgets to track them down. How pining is such a foreign feeling to us. How there might be an entire generation below me that does not know what it feels like to tape a celebrity photo to their pillow and practice making out with it. In a nutshell this is what I’m afraid has become of the modern day marriage plot: